When I started out as a young retina specialist at the University of Chicago in 2005, I thought I knew everything. Now, I am amazed by how much I don’t know. Colleagues may wonder how the 45-year-old chief of vitreoretinal service at the University of Chicago could feel this way. In retrospect, I guess I made it despite what I didn’t know. I now acknowledge that my success was the product of hard work and good fortune. I learned so much not only by education, but also by trial and error, from my peers and the lessons of life.
The new year is a great time for reflection. With that in mind, here are 10 key lessons I have learned throughout my career.
1 ENJOY THE AMAZING JOURNEY.
There’s so much beauty around us that I never noticed in my younger days. I was a research, clinical and surgical machine, always taking on more responsibility, never satisfied. Now I wish I had stopped to enjoy life and my career a bit more, rather than working at my earlier frenetic pace.
2 SLOW DOWN.
Life will pass you by in the blink of an eye. Now, when one of my daughters or my wife asks me to help them with something, I drop what I am doing and help them. It is amazing to me how much I learn every time I do this — about myself, my relationship with them, their lives and my life. And you can’t put a price tag on this.
3 DON’T WASTE TIME WORRYING ABOUT WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN.
Focus on problems only if they occur. I used to worry about everything, and most fears never materialized. Concentrate on what has happened. You will grow calmer — yet stronger and more confident.
4 LISTEN MORE.
You may find yourself telling everyone what to do — the techs, front office staff, possibly your spouse and kids. I strongly encourage you to take a step back. You’ll be amazed by how much you learn by listening to people. Gaining as much perspective as possible is more important than relying only on your initial judgment.
5 LEARN TO ACHIEVE BALANCE.
This is so very important. I am more than just the chief of the vitreoretinal service; I am also a mentor to my residents and fellows, a son, a brother, a brother-in-law, a son-in-law, a father, a husband, a professor and a doctor. Maintaining these roles is an art form that requires patience, but it is so worthwhile to learn.
6 BEING A SURGEON IS A PRIVILEGE.
We have the most amazing colleagues and educational opportunities. One of my favorite memories was my induction into the Macula Society in Jerusalem. I took my family with me, and we spent time with my good friend Tom Albini, MD, and his family exploring this beautiful ancient city.
The work we do is also amazing, saving the vision of thousands of people every year. Performing surgery is actually fun! I often tell my fellows, “I can’t believe they pay us to do this.”
7 WORK HARD, BUT GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK.
When I am at work, nothing else is on my mind. I see 60 to 70 patients in one day. My team works hard to provide the best eye care to every patient. But, every three to four months, I go with my family on adventure-filled vacations. Remember that you need to get away and spend time with your family. Re-energize yourself so you can come back recharged.
8 APPRECIATE WHERE YOU FIT IN.
This profession involves a great deal of hard work. We must embrace it and, above all, remember that we have a responsibility to the people above us and around us. When I was younger, it was all about me. Now, what gives me the most satisfaction is watching others develop.
My trainees are my legacy. I can only see about 6,500 patients per year. However, each one of my fellows can care for just as many. Training fellows and residents is my way of giving back to our profession, community and society at large.
9 DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE DIFFERENT AND TAKE RISKS.
This is one lesson I learned early, and it benefited me tremendously. Don’t be scared to grab the bull by the horns and make positive changes.
10 DON’T TAKE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS FOR GRANTED.
You are successful because of the support you have around you. Your family must always come first. Success is not only measured by how well you achieve professional milestones, but also by how happy you and the people around you are.
WHAT I KNOW NOW — FOR CERTAIN
In my first five years, all I did was work. Now, I have monthly dates with my wife (Jaya) and one-on-one dinner/shopping dates with each of my two daughters (Anya, 15, and Ishani, 13). My family life has never been better. As a result, I can say the same about my professional life.
Despite your busy schedule, don’t let your life get out of balance. Identify any potential problems, and make changes sooner rather than later.
I wish you all the best in 2019! OM
A version of this article previously ran in the June 2018 issue of New Retinal Physician.